05/26/2011 12:40 pm ET | Updated Jul 26, 2011

Dems To Target Lugar, Heller In 2012 Over Medicare Votes

WASHINGTON -- Bullish after a win in New York District 26 this week, top Democratic campaign chairwoman Patty Murray said Thursday Democrats are lining up strong recruits to take down GOP Senators over their votes in support of changing Medicare.

Democrats plan target Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Dean Heller of Nevada by using their "yes" votes on Rep. Paul Ryan's House GOP budget -- which was defeated Wednesday in a 57-40 vote -- the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair told reporters.

Heller, an appointed senator who voted for the Ryan budget twice, is also a target of Protect Your Care, a group created to campaign against changes to the Affordable Care Act. The group plans to call Nevada and Florida seniors Thursday and question Heller and Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) votes in support of the House GOP budget.

Medicare is likely to be the primary campaign issue for Democratic Senate candidates in 2012 -- particularly after Democrats attributed the issue to their win in N.Y.-26. Murry said many recruits expressed interest because they opposed the House Republican budget's changed to the entitlement program, which would shift higher medical costs to future seniors.

"It has re-energized a number of people who may have passed on running in the past," Murray said, recounting a conversation with one unnamed recruit. "He said to me, 'I never was thinking about running before. ... But this is my country, and I am deeply concerned about where it's going."

Murray said that even Republican senators who opposed the Ryan budget, such as Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Olympia Snowe of Maine, could be vulnerable in 2012 based on Medicare concerns.

"Our voters know that Democrats in total rejected the Medicare proposal to private," she said. "That is what we are going to continually talk about from our side and from candidates who are running."

She remained mum on specific recruits in Massachusetts, declining to comment on whether the DSCC is talking to Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor who is leading the Consumer Financial Protection Board. Warren is rumored to be a possible challenger to Brown.

"We believe that Massachusetts is one that we will win," Murray said, adding that they expect to announce "a good, strong candidate" within the next few weeks.

Republicans plan to counter with a message of their own, said Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement.

"The campaign platform for Senate Democrats in 2012 is based on four key principles - more taxes, higher gas prices, bigger government, and bankrupting the country with a record debt," he said. "We look forward to debating the records of every Democrat candidate who has voted in support of that reckless economic agenda."

In the House, Steve Israel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he was also bolstered by Tuesday's Democratic win, and that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was "six months ahead of schedule" in their push to take back the House of Representatives.

The morning after Democrat Kathy Hochul won the N.Y.-26 seat, the DCCC called its 50 tops recruits to urge them to decide to run, he said.

He said the DCCC's plan for 2012 will not be based entirely around N.Y.-26, but that they would use similar strategies to the ones they deployed there, including "good old-fashioned street campaigning and mobilization."

"I did not expect to tell you that the House was in play as early as May," he said. "Victory in NY-26 is not going to make us cocky. Victory in NY-26 will inform our strategy, it will not make our strategy."